Boehner: GOP Ready To 'Roll Up Our Sleeves'

Republicans won a majority in the U.S. House on Tuesday, and made a significant dent in the Democrats' majority in the Senate. On Wednesday, Republican John Boehner, who is likely to become House Speaker in January, said his party had a mandate to roll back some of the president's biggest policy initiatives.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

A shellacking is what President Obama is calling yesterday's elections. We're going to hear more from Mr. Obama's news conference today in a few minutes. But, first, to the Republicans, who picked up a whopping 60 seats in the House, giving them a solid majority.

NPR's Andrea Seabrook gets our coverage started with the words of the congressman who is likely to become the new speaker of the House.

ANDREA SEABROOK: Last night was the time for emotion as is became clear to John Boehner that he would take the leadership of the House of Representatives.

Representative JOHN BOEHNER (Republican, Ohio): I spent my whole life chasing the American dream.

(Soundbite of cheering)

SEABROOK: Today it was time to work. That's the message Boehner sent by inviting cameras into a meeting he held with other Republican leaders in the capitol.

Rep. BOEHNER: Our job is to listen to the American people and follow the will of the American people. We've got a big job ahead of us and that's why you'll see us roll up our sleeves and go to work today.

SEABROOK: Boehner is assembling a transition team to build a specific agenda for the new House leadership. That's besides all the logistics of a shift in power in the capitol. Today we got some clues about what that agenda will be. There was this from the man expected to be the new House majority leader, Eric Cantor.

Representative ERIC CANTOR (Republican, Virginia): The first order of business has got to be create jobs. And that means cut spending and get us back to an era in which we can promote opportunity, people are ready to step up and accept responsibility so we can promote and reward success.

SEABROOK: Then there's the new health care law which many Republican challengers ran against. It's clear that with the Democrats still controlling the Senate and the White House, an all out repeal is not likely. But today Boehner signaled that there are other ways to inhibit the law's enactment.

Rep. BOEHNER: We have to do everything we can to try to repeal this bill and replace it with common sense reforms that'll bring down the cost of health insurance.

SEABROOK: Having the House majority isn't just about setting the agenda on the floor, it also means chairmanships and majorities on all the committees. It means having some say over the budget, including the funding for government agencies to enact the new health care law. And there's more those committees can do - a lot more, said Boehner today.

Rep. BOEHNER: I think one of the things that Congress has not done a very good job of over the last 15 years is real oversight. And I'm not talking about gotcha oversight. I'm talking about rock solid oversight of the executive branch, which is a constitutional responsibility of the Congress.

SEABROOK: Under divided government, Americans can expect to see the Obama administration getting a lot more pressure and many more questions from Congress. But Boehner's job won't be easy either. The wave Republicans rode to the House majority last night was not really one they created. A good number of incoming freshman owe more to Tea Party support and an anti-establishment mood than they do to Boehner, a decidedly establishment Republican. All the same, the speaker-in-waiting said today he doesn't think that'll be a problem for him.

Rep. BOEHNER: What unites us as Republicans will be the agenda of the American people. And if we're listening to the American people, I don't see any problems incorporating members of the Tea Party along with our party in the quest that's really the same. They want us to cut spending and focus on creating jobs in America.

SEABROOK: One final note: Boehner did not seem to have the swagger you might expect from a big winner. He spoke often of humility. Perhaps he learned a political lesson from the rise and fall of Republican Newt Gingrich under whom Boehner served in the mid-1990s. Or maybe he sees it the way one top aide to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell described it today. Americans didn't elect a bunch of Republicans last night, he said, they unelected a bunch of Democrats.

Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the capitol.

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